Putting a face on Haitian suffering
Leader executive editor
writer Edwidge Danticat's collection of stories, "The Dew Breaker"
(Knopf, $22), can only be described as labyrinthine as it confronts
the reader with interwoven parallel tales of the horrors and beauty
of life in Port Au Prince, Haiti, as it was ruled by the ruthless dictator
Papa Doc Duvalier and his band of thugs, and subsequent life in Brooklyn
among those who fled his rule but can never put the horror of it behind
An intricate interleafing of short stories that can either be taken
alone or read together as a novel, the collection draws Danticat's reader
in as subtle connections are drawn among the book's Haitian characters
who are among those who fled the horrors of that country only to find
themselves confronting or living alongside those who earlier victimized
Political struggle, torture, poverty, loss of family members, fear for
self, spouse and children are themes explored in the book and closely
intertwined with the redeeming values of hope, love and faith that life
will be better.
Described as "one of contemporary fiction's most sensitive conveyors
of hope's bittersweet persistence in the midst of poverty and violence,"
by Margaria Fichtner of the Miami Herald, Danitcat's stories put a face
on descendants of those generations of Haitians who have lived through
centuries of violent political upheaval and the legacy of slavery that
has torn apart the country as well as its families.
Because Haiti is this talented and sensitive writer's birthplace
she lived there until the age of 12 it holds a special place
in her heart.
She returned there earlier this year with her husband to celebrate the
New Year and she writes of the country and its people with affection,
sensitivity and a sense of hope for their survival. The hotel in which
the couple stayed was nearly empty, and just over a month later armed
rebels captured Cap Hatien, Haiti's second largest city in bid to overthrow
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Such is the legacy of Haiti a country torn physically and emotionally
apart and struggling to stay afloat.
Danticat's most compelling fictional character is the dew breaker himself
the executioner or torturer who comes for his victims before
the break of dawn carrying out the ferocious and cruel whims
of his superiors, often disabling, terrorizing or murdering his victims.
The term dew breaker is Danticat's translation of the Creole expression
"shouket la-roze," a brutal regional or rural leader and torturer.
Confronted in a nearly mystical way with the terror he has wracked on
the lives of his fellow countrymen, he flees to Brooklyn with the woman
who has confronted him and who learns to love him. They conceive a child
named Ka (from the "Egyptian Book of the Dead") after the
soul or life force that accompanies one through life and into the afterworld
as a mystical body double.
The dew breaker views his wife and child as that soul and sees them
as a means to his personal redemption. He became a killer and torturer
but hopes to be redeemed through hope and love. Still he hides his horrible
past from those he loves and from his neighbors who consider him a harmless
His daughter, though persistently puzzled by her father's behavior,
is further distressed when he finally reveals his sordid past to her.
She feels it's a past she would have been better off not knowing. You
feel her sense of hopelessness and abandonment as she realizes she's
never really known her father.
So goes the suite of stories. Characters, such as the funeral singer,
for whom there is still hope hope in a new life, a new child, a new
marriage, love and closeness as experienced by another family starting
out in New York seek to obliterate the legacy of pain from which
Our hope is that they succeed and that Danticat continues to make hers
and their voices heard to explain the often unexplainable
which is only too familiar for those who have lived through similar
horrendous experiences be it in war-torn countries, as victims of brutal
crimes or their families who live with the wounds and loss, or victims
of genocide or the Holocaust. For some of Danticat's fictional characters,
living in the past is all they can do.
books of Danticat's include "Krik! Krak!" an earlier collection
of stories of Haitians living both here and on the island, "The Farming
of Bones," on the past's intrusions into everyday life, and "Breath,
Eyes, Memory," an Oprah Book Club selection. She is also the editor
of "The Butterfly's Way: Voices from the Haitian Dyaspora in the